Apple’s WWDC 2022 announcements were missing big, splashy new features, and Siri was largely MIA. But in the absence of Apple’s virtual assistant, we got a lot of small but potentially meaningful software updates around a very real individual: you. And I. Developers know us as ‘end users’, but we are also known as people.
Humans are different from end users because we forget words, make typos, and accidentally hit send on an important email before it’s ready. People also have individual personalities and strong opinions about fonts, and we’d love it if the devices we carry with us 24/7 reflect that a little bit more. Historically, Apple has preferred to have a firm grip on every aspect of its devices, from how they look to how people are allowed to interact with them. This year’s WWDC gave us a glimpse of Apple softening that grabbed a little bit to acknowledge the folks on the other side of its product pipelines. It’s a welcome development, but make no mistake: Apple won’t pass it on at a lot of control.
For starters, Macs, iPads, and iPhones will be more forgiving of the mistakes we make. The Messages app on all three platforms gives you a 15-minute grace period after you send an iMessage to correct typos or unsend it altogether. Likewise, Mail allows you to retrieve an email within 10 seconds of pressing send. Search within the Mail app is also getting an update to correct typos and use synonyms as words are sometimes difficult.
Apple also tends to insist that its products be used a certain way, sometimes ignoring the reality of how people actually want to use their products. Remember all those years when we tapped our iPhone’s alarms because nothing happened because Apple wanted us to tap “edit” first? Apple finally gave in to that in iOS 15.
This year, it acknowledges a different reality: that we can’t always reply to a text or email as soon as we read it, but we don’t want it to disappear in a sea of message threads. Instead of hacking into a workaround like pinning a text thread to the top of your screen, Apple lets you mark a text as unread, essentially allowing you to set a little reminder flag to send a reply. Mail also moves sent messages to the top of your inbox for follow-up – because our inboxes actually double as to-do lists. That’s not really what an email app is for, but that’s how we use it.
Apple has also been reluctant to let iPad owners use their devices the way many want them to: as laptops rather than giant iPhones. That won’t change anytime soon, but the company has made a substantial concession by adding Stage Manager to iPadOS, making it possible to open and resize multiple windows for a more desktop-like experience (literally — it’s also a macOS Ventura feature). There’s also a long list of other iPadOS updates, many of which sound insignificant but actually make a difference if you’re trying to use an iPad as your primary computing device, such as navigation buttons in the Files app and the ability to change file extensions. And for God’s sake, it’s taken so long, but there’s finally a Weather app on the iPad!
Introduced at the top of the keynote, Apple’s most obvious nod to the people using its phones was the addition of plenty of customization options for the lock screen. You can change fonts, choose new colors and add widgets to the lock screen. Here you might be tempted to grab your personalized stationery and write a letter to The edge Dot Com to yell that at me Android phones have been able to do all this since time immemorial. Don’t worry, I know. Maybe Android 12 rubs off on iOS a bit. I don’t think that’s a bad thing for anyone involved. And a revamped lock screen is a far cry from the system-wide customization options offered by Google’s Pixel phones and Material You. Even the new M2 MacBook Air colors have a certain reserve, which is nice, but not at pleasure.
But even after all these people-centric improvements have been made, you’re still living in the world of Apple. Even with the new personalization options, the device will “undeniably remain iPhone,” as software SVP Craig Federighi put it. Apple is putting more flexibility in its software and more control in the hands of its users than ever before, but it’s all still on Apple’s terms. It will make concessions, such as adding multitasking features to iPadOS, but to go as far as a true desktop experience on a tablet? Highly unlikely. There’s a little more you in these latest updates, but it’s still unmistakably Apple.